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Most Brits suffer harm from others’ drinking

GPs call for minimum unit pricing to tackle physical and mental harm, and cut admissions

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The majority of people in Britain have suffered harm as a result of other people’s drinking, according to the latest figures. GPs have called again for minimum unit alcohol pricing to reduce the level of physical and mental problems that alcohol causes, cut the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions and save lives.

The Institute of Alcohol Studies, in partnership with the University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), analysed responses to two survey questionnaires: one conducted among 1,020 adults (aged 18 and over) living in the north west of England; and the other among 1,007 people aged 16 years and older living in Scotland. They found that more than three-quarters (79%) of respondents in north west England and more than half (51.4%) of those in Scotland said that other people’s drinking had caused them harm during the previous 12 months; rates were higher among 16-24 and 25-34 year olds. The surveys showed that:

  • Overall, one in five adults have been harassed or insulted on the street by someone who has been drinking (20% Scotland; 23% north west England)
  • 19% of people in Scotland and 36% of people in north west England have felt unsafe or threatened in public
  • 30% of people in Scotland and almost half of those in north west England (49%) have been kept awake at night because of drunken noise
  • 15% of people in north west England have been paid unwanted sexual attention, or suffered sexually inappropriate behaviour, from someone who had been drinking

The authors of Alcohol’s Harm to Others called for better recording of harm to others from alcohol across the health and social services, and greater support for those affected. They also examined the evidence on the financial cost to the UK economy of alcohol’s harm to others – estimated at more than £15bn a year – and on policies that could help to raise awareness of the problem, and reduce the level of harm to others. These policies include: offering screening and brief advice to drinkers who are most at risk of causing harm to themselves and others (systematic review evidence shows long-term reduction in consumption is proven for men, but evidence is lacking for women); better regulating the density of alcohol outlets and restricting their trading times; raising the price of the cheapest alcohol through taxation and minimum unit pricing; and lowering the legal drink-drive limit and introducing random roadside breath testing.

Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs, responded: “Every day in our surgeries, GPs are dealing with the fallout of alcohol abuse in some of our patients’ lives, and this report really hammers home the devastating ‘domino effect’ on families and the wider community. We are particularly concerned that children and young people frequently bear the brunt of alcohol abuse in the family. It is also an enormous financial drain on the NHS and the economy.

“GPs see minimum pricing as a major step forward in tackling this problem. It could be the catalyst we need to create a change in individual and societal attitudes and behaviour towards alcohol. Not only will this reduce hospital admissions, improve people’s physical and mental health and ultimately save lives, it will help to create safer and healthier communities for all.”

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